One of the reasons it’s extremely unwise to put people like Barack Obama in charge of anything is that their frantic efforts to save their own skins have a way of tearing apart the teams they lead. It’s hard to keep up with their ever-shifting excuses and prevarications. A subordinate might find himself fiercely defending every word the boss said on Monday as gospel truth, “clarifying” those words on Tuesday, retracting them on Wednesday, and denying the boss ever said them by the end of the week. Other people in the operation often object to being used as scapegoats for failure, leading to nasty internal battles.
When that team is the gigantic federal government of the United States, and it’s at war with a savage foreign enemy, the results of Obama-style anti-leadership can be catastrophic. His team is now sweating through Day Two of damage control for the President’s latest attempt to spin away his foreign policy failures on “60 Minutes.” When your damage control needs damage control, you’re in a bad place. This particular effort went so badly wrong that even the designated softball pitcher for CBS News, Steve Kroft, felt obliged to call Obama out for lying during what was supposed to be a friendly interview. The intelligence community Obama tried to saddle with the burden of his failures wasted no time speaking up and making it perfectly clear they did warn the President about the threat of ISIS, long ago.
It’s an unholy disaster, and the Administration charged with controlling Obama’s self-inflicted damage is putting on the biggest clown show since… well, since they started arguing with each other about whether they were at war with ISIS last week. White House spokesman Josh Earnest was dispatched to simultaneously walk back Obama’s buck-passing and deny that America heard what it heard on Sunday night, as reported by The Hill:
Press secretary Josh Earnest said officials were aware of the threat posed by ISIS, but misjudged the will of the Iraqi military to fight back and how successful the terror group would be at capturing territory. He said “everybody” ??? from the intelligence community to the White House ??? made the same mistake, but that Obama was ultimately responsible.
“The president???s commander in chief and he???s the one who takes responsibility for ensuring that we have the kinds of policies in place that are required to protect our interests around the globe,” Earnest said.
Reporters grilled Earnest about Obama???s remarks Sunday on ???60 Minutes,??? where he at one point said Jim Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has acknowledged misreading ???what had been taking place in Syria??? with regards to ISIS.
The remark has created a firestorm, with Republicans and some former intelligence officials arguing the president was trying to shirk responsibility.
Earnest insisted that was “not what the president’s intent was,” adding that the comment was meant as a general reflection on the difficulty of assessing the security situation in the region. He also said the president remained “absolutely” confident in the intelligence community.
Put on the defensive over ISIS, Earnest tried to go on offense by highlighting comments Speaker Boehner made in his own Sunday interview about the possible use of ground forces in Iraq.
Earnest said Obama had “ruled out” the possibility of deploying ground forces, but that “Speaker Boehner wants to leave open that possibility.” He went on to link that proposition to a strategy “that was pursued by the Bush administration.”
“It???s not particularly surprising to me??? that Speaker Boehner does think that the president should consider sending ground troops into a combat role in Iraq,” Earnest said. “That???s something that senior members of the Republican Party advocated in the previous administration. It???s something that senior members of the Republican Party advocate in this administration.”
Unbelievable. This hack’s strategy for dealing with Obama’s disgraceful performance is to start shrieking about what John Boehner said on a talk show? What’s that got to do with the President lying to the American people about what the intelligence community told him? And why should anyone find it encouraging that our buck-never-got-here President is making a big show of denying ground troops will be used? That’s politics, not military strategy. Obama’s bamboozling voters, spinning his train-wreck foreign policy to look like some kind of stand on principle, and creating opportunities for underhanded attacks on domestic political opponents, like the one Josh Earnest is delivering here. ISIS must be feeling neglected. Obama and his team are so busy playing politics that they don’t have any time or energy to spare for the actual enemy.
For what it’s worth, while The Hill notes polls that show less than 40 percent of Americans support using ground troops against ISIS, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll says 72 percent of the public believes boots will eventually be put on the ground. Howard Kurtz at Fox News squares that circle by guessing “this huge majority doesn’t necessarily believe that Obama is deliberately lying, but that he will be drawn into the Middle East quicksand.” Au contraire, Mr. Kurtz, I think they believe Obama is lying and he will be drawn into the quicksand. By now everyone except the die-hard Obama base knows he’ll say anything to keep his political boat floating for another news cycle – the whole reason he served up those whoppers on “60 Minutes” was to trick the public into forgetting how badly he bungled things in Iraq.
Also, if the public has a decent impression of the Islamic State threat, and of the Iraqi and Syrian ground-pounders we expect to serve as our proxies, then it’s perfectly reasonable for them to be simultaneously unhappy about sending American forces into combat, and resigned to it happening eventually. Which, leaving Josh Earnest’s vicious political opportunism aside, is where people like Speaker Boehner are coming from.
Meanwhile, hapless State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf apparently didn’t get the White House talking-points memo, because she was still trying to salvage Obama’s buck-passing by claiming – I kid you not – that the rise of ISIS was so surprising that not even ISIS anticipated it. “The president said, for a long time we’ve known about the serious threat from ISIL,” babbled Harf, “but everyone – us, the Iraqis, even ISIL itself, probably – was surprised by how quickly earlier this summer they were really able to to take territory in Iraq. They moved more quickly than anyone could have imagined. And, you know, assessing the will of a force to fight… the capability is one thing you can assess, but the will is a really tough thing to assess.”
What the hell is she talking about? Is there anyone even slightly familiar with ISIS who thinks their will to fight and conquer was questionable? Nobody in the Syrian resistance doubted that… and the American intelligence community has been studying the various resistance groups for a long time, with an eye toward finding reliable proxies we could arm to fight first the Assad regime, and now the regime’s most effective adversaries, who just happen to be even more evil than Assad. Intelligence agencies pushing back against Obama’s attempt to scapegoat them are saying that they gave the President alarming assessments of both ISIS’ will and capacity, but were ignored. In fact, I can remember stories from two years ago about how one of the big objections to arming the Syrian “moderates” was that the more effective and aggressive al-Qaeda units among the Syrian resistance would knock them over and take their superior American weapons away.
She’s off-message anyway, since the new spin muffin fresh out of Obama’s oven says that we (he said “we,” not “I,” so we means “people other than Barack Obama”) overestimated the Iraqi army, and that’s not even the American intel community’s fault, because the Iraqis let us down. As of Monday evening, Administration drones were supposed to stop rationalizing why the intel boys underestimated ISIS. Get with the program, Ms. Harf!
Noah Rothman at Hot Air rightly labels this an “embarrassing display,” and wonders why Obama didn’t simply admit his errors on “60 Minutes” and weather a brief shower of criticism, confident that the media would declare all that “jayvee” stuff old news and swallow White House talking points about the need to move forward, instead of dwelling on past mistakes:
How much damage could the president have avoided doing to his administration if he had just said, ???I underestimated ISIS and I overestimated the Iraqis.??? His critics would have had a field day with it for 48 hours, but the media would have quickly moved on to another story. It would have disappeared in short order. Now, the intelligence community is out for blood, and the president has sparked a bureaucratic war inside the Beltway. Much like his response to ISIS, Obama???s underestimation of the intelligence community will likely prove to be shortsighted.
I think the answer lies partly in Obama’s arrogance – has he ever admitted error or taken full responsibility for anything? – and partly in his fear of making that “I screwed up in Iraq” concession. It would enrage the Democrat base – not only would Obama’s critics claim vindication for accusing him of misjudging ISIS, but they would say he’s admitting it was wrong to pull American forces out of Iraq. That would shred Obama’s efforts to maintain a little political distance from the unfolding crisis. It cannot be overstated how much he needs die-hard loyalists and Low Information Voters to believe he’s not directly responsible for the ISIS invasion of Iraq.
NBC News notes that the Syrians claim to have warned the Administration about the growing power of ISIS for years. Sure, they’ve got ulterior motives, and the Assad regime doesn’t exactly project an air of trustworthiness, but the intelligence community takes these warnings seriously. NBC offers an ISIS timeline that completely shreds Obama’s allegations that the spies and analysts got all this wrong. No, Barack Obama got it wrong, in part because he still isn’t listening to what the intel people tell him – after a brief, embarrassed spurt of taking his intel briefings seriously in the wake of Benghazi, he went back to skipping them over half the time. Irate at being blamed for the President’s shortcomings, the people who prepare those briefings are telling journalists that the documents Obama isn’t reading were full of warnings about ISIS, all the way back to 2012… the year in which Obama and his campaign team actively mocked anyone who thought Iraq faced any sort of serious military threat.
Obama provides the exact opposite of leadership, and it’s killing us. His obsession with political spin is harming America’s image abroad, and paralyzing our national security apparatus. To borrow Marie Harf’s analysis, our enemies have no reason to doubt American capability, but plenty of reason to question our will.
Update: I’m starting to get the impression CBS News is mad at Obama for blowing that nice softball interview they gave him. Actually, nobody in Big Media seems inclined to carry his water this time. Maybe it’s because they know the “paper trail” of ISIS intelligence mentioned by the CBS morning team is just too solid for Obama to spin away.